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Maggie Ackers


          I guess it all started that day back in ’76 I remember it was ’76 ’cause Dad was home and he didn’t have no lower legs ’cause they’d cut ’em off just below the knees when the Vietcong had blown ’em off and I remember how much he was drinking back then so nobody noticed when I used to sneak me and my brother a couple of beers and we’d sit out in our treehouse and drink ’em and that was the summer I was thirteen and had my first kiss and got my first period and that was the summer I saw my first dead body and that was the start of it the sun was setting and the sky was orange and pink and pink was my favorite color back then I’d been wearing my favorite dress that day it was pastel pink with white lace around the collar and the sleeves and Momma got it for me at an estate sale and that dress was ruined when that semi had whirled past our farmhouse so fast it splattered him all over the road my big brother one second the spitting image of a kennedy tall blond muscular with a gap in between his two front teeth and the whitest smile he was captain of the football team at his high school and my best friend and the next second he was unrecognizable bisected by eighteen wheels and his face caved in his teeth scattered about the gravel and nothing that said this was my brother except for the fact that I had watched it happen and I never got those blood stains out of that dead woman’s dress
         I’d tripped over my own bare feet running out to the road and that truck just kept on driving with a brand new red paint job and my momma said she’d never heard a more agonized scream then the one I’d let out that made her run out and see her son like that and she grew up on a pig farm with a yearly slaughter and I was in the middle of the road trying to collect his teeth and put ’em back in his head but Momma came and yanked me out of the road and we was both sobbing and I had just one of his front teeth gripped in my hand like a vise and I didn’t know if it was the one that’d been on either side of his gap or not but since I’ve kept it all these years I like to think it was and ever since then I never stopped thinking about dead bodies well specifically young men who’d experienced brutal deaths I guess thirteen is also the year I had my sexual awakening because somehow those wires got crossed and I’ve never let another boy kiss me no matter how many of ’em tried and I never ever had a crush that wasn’t on a crime scene photo
            I’m grown now and all alone cuz Daddy drank himself to death by 1980 and Momma just passed last year and they’re both buried out back next to Granny and the ashes of my brother or at least the part of him we could scrape up off that country road and I started to sit on top of the graves and talk for hours like they were all sitting there next to me that’s when I realized I was going a little crazy and needed to get myself out there so I drove into town every Sunday for three weeks until I saw enough cars outside the funeral home for them to be having a service in there and I sat there in my daddy’s old pickup and thought a good long while and said to myself to please please let it be a young blond man in a closed casket ’cause something so horrifying happened that his momma couldn’t even give him an open one let it be a decapitation or better yet a car crash and then I walked on inside
          Well that first funeral the man in the casket was way too old for me old enough to be my daddy and I sat in the back and when everyone was walking up to say their goodbyes I leaned down and gave him a kiss on the cheek just as I’d seen his daughter do and his skin was cold and powdery the way I remember my granny was back when I was a little girl and she lived with us spending the days rocking on the porch swing drinking whiskey out of a coffee mug and every night when the sun was settin’ and Momma was about to put us to bed she’d still be sitting out there watching the sun sink below the mountains and Momma would drag us out there by our little wrists and make us kiss her goodnight and her cheek was powdery and cold like she was already dead and just propped up on our porch for decoration like plastic Jesus and his Christmas lights
            That kiss wasn’t enough to satiate me and I found myself back at the funeral home the next week in my best black dress ready to blend into the walls while the preacher droned on and on about someone I never knew and I really lucked out that day I guess because when I walked in and picked up a copy of the order of service I suddenly felt like I was being whirled back in a time machine because the boy on the brochure was blond and tan with a nice square jaw and wide smile and suddenly I was looking at my big brother that day when he’d shouted back at me from the road come on he said come on and the loud lingering blow of the semi’s horn and the preacher snapped me out of my daydream when he took my hand in his and his was icy and calloused and he said I must just be having the worst time with these two back-to-back funerals and I slinked away without saying anything and sat towards the back staring at the big cardboard picture at the front and the slick black casket with its lid shut tight and he was real young in the photo like he’d been called home to God just a little too soon that’s what they say though I don’t think there’s a God really or a heaven well not since that day back in ’76 and I think dead is dead and that grave-robbing a freshly dug plot under the cover of a moonless sky is just fine ’cause if there is no God then there’s no right and there’s no wrong
         They talked about the boy for a good long hour and I didn’t bother remembering his name ’cause it didn’t matter who he was when he was alive now that he’s just a dead body he’s a sock puppet a voodoo doll a conduit of my big brother’s soul and I wanted to take that corpse home with me the way a barn cat will bring gutted rodents and dead birds every morning and leave ’em on the front porch we used to have a cat that did that till my daddy got so fed up with it he shot it in the head with a hunting rifle and I was so upset and crying and my big brother told me to cowgirl up and reminded me that Dad also shot men women and children back in ’Nam so why the hell was I crying over a feral pussycat but I was always such a sensitive child
           I started up the old pickup and followed the funeral procession to the burial spot even though I knew where he’d be laid to rest this town only has one cemetery and people don’t bury their own the way they used to though my daddy instilled it in us that we’d be six feet under the willow tree on our plot of land behind our farmhouse and that’s where we’d all lay side by side till the day the earth spins off its axis and into the sun I stood in the shade of an oak and watched the grave for a long time after everyone had left and then I walked down to it and sat on top of it my back pressed against the tombstone it was so hot in the high afternoon sun like body heat
           The sunset was pink that night and once darkness fell I walked back to my truck and got the shovel out of its bed and I dug until dawn and when I finally hit the solid oak casket I had to lug the body real fast back to my truck ’cause the sun was rising and I lost one of his shoes when his foot snagged on one of the tombstones but mostly I got him back to my house in one piece and dragged him up the stairs to my bedroom the furthest down the hallway and his clothes were a little dirty and grass-stained but I still laid him right on my bed right on that nice quilt my momma had made me in her twilight years and I kicked off my muddy Sunday shoes and climbed into bed with him well I guess more like on top of him I straddled his hips and put my palms flat on his chest and I leaned down and planted a big Hollywood kiss on his cold lips no tongue ’cause his jaw was wired shut
         I unbuttoned my dress and slipped it off over my head and I wasn’t even embarrassed or anything ’cause his eyes were sewn closed so he couldn’t see that I was flat-chested flat as a board my momma would say and too skinny with a gap-toothed smile that looked wrong on a girl he couldn’t judge me if he wanted to and that made it easier to do what I did when I’d stripped off his suit jacket and his dress shirt it revealed the Y-incision and I spent a long time just tracing the sutures with my fingertips and for a second I considered taking a large bite out of his cold flesh really sinking my teeth into him and swallowing it
          Sex wasn’t an option of course all that blood that’d pumped through his veins was drained out a little hole in his neck and replaced with something blue and cold which made him blue and cold and like every other dead man he couldn’t get it up but it also meant he’d never decay or blow away to ashes and so I took one of his hands in mine and his freezing skin raised goosebumps on me and I crawled into his arms like a toddler and held them against me I dozed off to sleep with my cheek pressed against his still chest
           That night I felt my brother’s ghost in the room with us and well now I know when I’m an old lady sitting out on my granny’s rocking chair watching the air blowing through our willow and the clouds rolling by I’ll come upstairs to bed with a lover waiting for me and when I die and begin to rot they’ll find our bodies intertwined on my childhood bed.

Maggie Ackers is a writer of horror and transgressive fiction. Her work is an exploration of womanhood, shedding light on the bleakest aspects of life experienced from a distinctly female perspective.

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